Students fight back after school volunteer calls atheism ‘stupid’ and ‘evil’

Students fight back after school volunteer calls atheism ‘stupid’ and ‘evil’ October 30, 2014

Brave middle school students in Salem, Oregon, fight back after a school volunteer tells students that atheism is “wrong,” “bad,” “stupid” and “evil.”

Via Statesman Journal:

Tim Saffeels, the director of student ministries at a local church, has been barred from volunteering at Straub Middle School in Salem, Oregon, after students accused him of promoting Christianity and insulting atheists.

Some students said Saffeels was making them feel uncomfortable by promoting Christianity and denigrating atheism.

Shelby Conway, 14, and Sarina Keightley, 13, both eighth-graders at Straub Middle School, said Saffeels preached at them and other students about religion during their lunch period.

Eighth-grader Shelby Conway wrote an email to the principal asking that Saffeels not return. In her email, Conway said that Saffeels asked students for their religious beliefs and then insulted her after she revealed that she was atheist. She wrote in the letter that Saffeels told her that atheism is “wrong,” “bad,” “stupid” and “evil.”

“I was very uncomfortable and personally offended with the way he was speaking to both me and other non-Christians around the lunch room,” Conway wrote. “I request that we keep things like this, such as pastors and religious speeches, in places where they are welcomed, such as churches or religious schools.”

The school’s principal, Laura Perez, said that Saffeels will not be allowed back as a volunteer for the remainder of the school year.

“I decided that I’m not going to allow him in because to me there was a breach of trust there,” Perez said.

Volunteers supervise students during lunch and serve as role models. They make sure students are picking up after themselves, Perez said, but they are not allowed to promote religion because of the separation of church and state.

Saffeels denies proselytizing and making offensive comments about atheism to the students. However, he does admit he spoke to the students about religion.

The Salem-Keizer School District has a policy that outlines how school visitors and volunteers should behave during instructional hours, which includes lunch.

“Promotion or inhibition of religion in any form… is prohibited,” the policy states.

Read the full text of Shelby Conway’s email to Laura Perez, Principal at Straub Middle School:

Dear Mrs. Perez,

My name is Shelby Conway, I am 14 years old, and an eighth grader at Straub. Today at lunch, our table was approached by a youth pastor who said he was from a Christian church out in South Salem. He then proceeded to preach to our entire table, several of whom are not Christians. When he finished, he asked us for our religious beliefs. I replied that I am an atheist, which I am, and I am very firm in my beliefs, and that he should not try to convince me otherwise. He began insulting me, my beliefs, and my intelligence, saying that, “Any logical person would see that atheism is wrong” and telling me that I am “too young” to choose this belief and saying that he believes I am simply trying to ‘rebel’. I explained that it was quite the opposite, that I find religion itself illogical. He got upset here and started telling me that my belief was “bad,” “stupid,” and “evil,” and that I was as well. I was already quite upset, so I told him to “leave me alone” and he simply continued, telling me that I needed to come to a church function to “cleanse my mind and soul o! evil”’ and gave me a card for his youth group because, as he said, which I promptly got rid of. I know there were other things he said, but some were not direct, and I don’t remember exact quotes.

I have no problem with religion, and I respect all peoples beliefs, even if they aren’t like mine. Some of my best friends are very strong Christians, and I have no problem with it. However, I am very willing to defend myself and others when they’re insulted, which they were. I was very uncomfortable and personally offended with the way he was speaking to both me and other non-Christians around the lunch room. I request that we keep things like this, such as pastors and religious speeches, in places where they are welcomed, such as churches, or religious schools. It offends me, and several other non-Christians, that it was assumed that we were both a small minority, and unintelligent and easily convinced. There is a wide array of religious belie!s here at Straub, and we should not assume that all people believe the same.

The man refused to offer his name, but I assume that there is a way to contact him. I’m fairly certain that he was here because he was welcomed by the school. I ask that he does not return.

Thank you very much !or your time and consideration,

Shelby Conway

Well done Shelby! Thank you for taking a stand, and thank you for doing the right thing.

(H/T Statesman Journal)

Shelby Conway, left, 14, and Sarina Keightley, 13, both eighth-graders at Straub Middle School (Image via Statesman Journal)
Shelby Conway, left, 14, and Sarina Keightley, 13, both eighth-graders at Straub Middle School (Image via Statesman Journal)
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